We had this mudroom off the back of our house that caused a lot of problems. The room was approximately 5×8 and was useful as a place to store garden supplies and the like, but as is often the case with such a room, it frequently became the depository of every damn thing we couldn’t find a spot for.
The righthand wall blocked the view of our yard from the kitchen, and because of the way it was positioned, it made our deck seem smaller than it is.
It also served as a buffer between the yard and the actual house, so the elements hit the mudroom instead of the backdoor, and we could leave our dirty shoes there instead of tracking mud or snow into the kitchen. But then the elements started to win. The roof grew patches of moss and began to leak; a gust of wind blew a window out of its frame, which window almost struck a visiting 6-year-old before it shattered on the floor; the outer door broke and could only be replaced with a costly custom door; and the whole structure had a growing wobble, slight but unnerving, whenever we walked outside.
Last and most irksome, carpenter ants had moved into the walls and were eating the structure from the inside out. When I pried off the drywall, I revealed not only the sawdusty frass of previous colonies but a pair of active egg mounds. The eggs are sticky white, like over-boiled rice, and if I remember my research correctly, they’ll linger there over the winter and hatch the following year. Since the usual ant poisons don’t affect the eggs, carpenter ants are hard to eradicate; even if you kill the current year’s colony, there’s always another nest waiting in the wings.
Not this time! As soon as I opened the drywall, the living ants panicked and began to carry the eggs to safer ground. Before they could properly mobilize, I scooped the eggs with a dust pan and tied them into a plastic bag. Next I poured boiling water on the rest of the ants and eggs that were hiding out of reach, and then, just as a few weary survivors were having an emergency meeting under the floor, I went forward with my plan to destroy their precious mudroom forever.
I called on a friend who’s good at this kind of thing to help me avoid killing myself or destroying the back of the house during demolition. I ordered a 12-yard dumpster and we tore it down piece by piece two Saturdays ago. The decrepit state of the mudroom made it harder to wreck, as it happened, because we had to be careful that portions wouldn’t collapse at a dangerous moment, and we often needed leverage using boards that we too rickety or rotten to provide it.
Along the way, we discovered that the mudroom was really the enclosure of an earlier shingled awning with wooden supports. The original support posts were mostly intact inside a shell of cheap outer wood, and I’m keeping them now until I figure out some way to repurpose them.
Another discovery was the quality of old pine. Our house was built in the late 40s, when pine was nicer and stronger than the cheap-o stuff you generally find at Home Depot. There were places where water and ants had disintegrated the newer wood but left the original pine — which wasn’t pressure-treated back then — completely intact. And the old 2x4s were actual 2x4s, and not the smaller nominal size of 1 1/2″ by 3 1/2″. It was manly wood, from a manlier era.
The entire mudroom was barely connected to the house, which meant there was minimal damage to the outer wall when we removed it. A lot of the cedar shakes were missing where the roof met the house, but we replaced those with new shakes and I painted them all the following day. The paint I used was matched to the sunbleached color that surrounded the former mudroom, but sadly, color-matching isn’t an exact science, even with those fancy computer matchers at paint stores. So now we have a slightly darker Ghost of the Mudroom on the back wall. It’s less glaring in person; my camera exaggerates the contrast (see the final photo below).
The old mudroom floor is still there at the footprint. I’ll need to tear that up and replace the boards so it matches the rest of the deck. I’m installing a new storm door, now that the kitchen door leads directly to the yard. I also need an electrician to rewire the backyard light, and I’m going to put up a metal awning so we’ll have some cover when it rains or snows.
It’s incredible how much the view and even the yard itself has opened up since the mudroom’s removal. I owe my friend Kurt a full day of tiring labor on one of his future projects, along with a replacement set of Sawzall blades that he ruined cutting through the tarry old roof shingles.
Epilogue: today I saw a single lonesome carpenter ant scurrying aimlessly around the deck. I allowed it a moment of solemn remembrance, then squished it with my fingers.